Wainwright, his friends often say, can only be understood in the context of his family. “They just strike me as an aristocracy, a royal family,” says the musician Thomas Bartlett (who performs under the name Doveman), a collaborator who played at the Christmas show and recently recorded an album of Edith Piaf covers with Martha. “They’re usually the most compelling people in the room, and they know it.” His mother, Kate, came from the singing McGarrigles from Montreal, while his father, Loudon Wainwright III, was the Westchester-raised son of a longtime Life magazine editor. Loudon was once compared to Bob Dylan for his blunt, acerbic folk songs, but while he never became nearly that big, he’s still the only family member to have a single on the American pop charts: “Dead Skunk,” back in 1972. The couple divorced in the mid seventies, and McGarrigle raised Rufus and Martha. “We’d go out to a bar,” says artist Walt Cassidy, formerly the club kid Walt Paper, an early friend of Wainwright’s, “and Rufus’s mom and sister would be there, and if there happened to be a stage or a musical instrument, forget it—they’d kick the other band off the stage and take over the equipment and do a show.”
more from Tim Murphy at New York Magazine here.